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Hiring interns: Paid versus unpaid

On Behalf of | Apr 19, 2019 | Government Ethics And Compliance |

As spring semesters are ending, it is time to consider whether you are going to add interns to your summer and fall support staff. Internships (whether paid or unpaid) can be a mutually beneficial arrangement for both you and for student interns.

Internships are an excellent way for students to gain experience and an inside look at the way your government agency works while you get some extra help with your organization. The rules for hiring interns, however, can get complicated; especially when it comes to paid versus unpaid interns.

Here is what you should keep in mind when you are trying to figure out what category your interns are in.

Collecting cash

Paid internships are the kind both agencies and students want the most. On the employer side, paid internships tend to attract the most competitive students and students, of course, want to get paid for the work they are doing.

There are more complications with paid internships than coming up with the money to pay your new intern. Since a paid intern is an employee according to the Department of Labor, the student needs to qualify for employment just like any other employee. That means that if you have a prospective intern who does not have the authorization to work in the United States, they do not qualify for the internship.

No cash, just credit

While students will joke that an unpaid internship is like “slave labor,” students and agencies alike can understand the benefits that are on both sides of the equation. While it can be tempting to skip the complications that come with interns needing to qualify for employment, you must be cautious before considering an internship unpaid.

As long as the work the intern is doing falls within the Department of Labor guidelines, an unpaid internship is not “employment” in the traditional sense. Not only can this save you money from paying an intern, but it also gives you more freedom on who can be an intern, allowing you to hire international students who do not qualify for traditional employment.

On the other hand, if you have unpaid interns who are performing work that is outside the Department of Labor guidelines, you could face fines and other consequences. Before hiring an intern (paid or unpaid) evaluate the work so that you know what kind of intern will fit within your organization.



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